By ohhh, so many measures, air travel is a dreadful affair these days. Put aside for a moment the truly miraculous fact that its possible to be on the other side of the world in a day, the commoditized version of getting there is not a glamorous process. The only worse thing is perhaps not having the opportunity to do it. So, as I pack my bags in preparation for a journey from the cold rain of Seattle to the dry heat of a Melbourne summer, there are few colleagues from whom I might elicit the least sympathy, short of playing the illness-on-the-road card. That card came to the top of the deck yesterday, as my second bout of flu-like-symptoms of 2008 settles in.
My thoughts turned immediately to Andrew Speaker, last year's most unpopular fellow-traveler and TB's poster child of 2007. After the dust settled, it seemed improbable that Mr. Speaker was likely to be a serious danger to his fellow travelers, but the specter of resistant TB infection is dark indeed, and so the world clucked its collective tongue at his irresponsible behavior. As that story was in full swing, I couldn't help but think back to my own role as Typhoid Mary, also a trip to Australia, that marked the only time in my life that I considered seriously the possibility that I might succumb to a Jim-Henson-like malady. Lying in bed in a motel on the perimeter of Kosciusko National Park in New South Wales, I felt quite vulnerable indeed. I wanted nothing so much as to be home, and that desire overwhelmed what certainly was a more sensible course of action -- to turn myself into the health authorities. So, a day or so later, I got on a plane, undoubtedly leaving a collection of fellow infectees in my wake. My colleague and traveling companion, Carl Lagoze, was repaid for his care and ministrations by catching it, and anecdotal reports suggest a number of other conferees from DC-4 also got the bug.
We generally don't stay home when we catch a cold, and even less so when major efforts and expense have been expended to send us somewhere... people count on us to suck it up and get the job done. Just a cold, right? Interesting, though, that Mr. Speaker sparked a global controversy with his decision to join the flying public against doctors' orders, but most every flight has its share of disease vectors, one of whom will someday spark the next pandemic. Hope I'm not part of it.
PS: Risk is relative, no? Don't miss the New York Times story about the risk that all you Superbowl fans will be taking on at the communal guacamole bowl.
Same sunset ferry trip from Bainbridge to Seattle on a beautiful January evening.